More than ten indigenous groups are being threatened by a wave of mercury contamination in the Amazon.
The situation jeopardizes the lives of children and pregnant women from these communities, who suffer from diseases such as acute respiratory deficiencies, among others.
The death of an indigenous child brought the situation to the mainstream. The child failed to survive after being diagnosed by doctors in the Ucayali Hospital, East of Peru.
From there, the medical staff conducted tests to discover that 82% of the indigenous community in the region is poisoned by elevated mercury levels.
Contamination spreads through Dotted Mota (gilded catfish), a fish whose body is able to accumulate mercury that it acquires from the environment.
The Nahua Indians, is an ethnic group that inhabits the land reserve of Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti, where they live from hunting and fishing near the Mishagua river.
According to the Ministry of Environment, mining in the region leaks 40 tons of mercury into the rivers each year. The activity also destroys more than 100,000 hectares of rainforest.
The mercury enters the river whose water is used by indigenous people as well as the fish that are an essential part of their diet.
Luis Aponte, a medical resident at the Ucayalí hospital explained that they are seeing increasing numbers of cases of severe poisoning. But the situation worsens in the case of the Nahua because being an ethnic isolated group means that they do not have effective or quick access to the healthcare system.
Nery Zapata, national leader of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, denounces that “mercury contamination is extremely sensitive to human health, because of its irreversible consequences that entails, therefore health authorities should conduct research in order to curb the pollution source against the native population.
The Peruvian government knew about the contamination since 2014, but had taken no action until last May 26, when a state of emergency decreed was declared in the region.
According to the Presidential Office of Peru, a working group will focus for 60 days on ensuring food security for the Nahua people to limit consumption of Mota Dotted fish and “conduct a comprehensive investigation to provide conclusive results on polluting sources of mercury “.
The ordeal for these Indians began nearly four decades ago, when in 1980 an oil worker entered the Nahua-Nanti Reserve, one of the most important protected areas in the world.
This first contact caused deadly diseases to almost 50% of the indigenous group. But this situation worsened when the Peruvian government approved the opening of Camisea, the largest energy project in the country which has investments from Argentina and Spain.
The Brazilian Health Foundation Fiocruz with the Yanomami Hutukara Association, the Brazilian NGO ISA, Socio-Environmental Institute, and Yekuana APYB Association have published the results of a study that reveals how indigenous of 19 communities in Brazil are also suffering the consequences of mercury invading rivers.
The Indian leader Davi Kopenawa formalized the complaint to the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the UN.
The research results showed that children and women of childbearing age have levels between 16 and 16 mg / g of mercury in their bodies.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that mercury levels above 6 mg / g elevate the risk of serious health consequences to the highest levels known by the organization.
The Yanomami ethnic group is the most affected by the presence of mercury in the rivers, and is one of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
In Venezuela the situation is similar. The Yanomami, the Yekuanas and 4 other minority ethnic groups are suffering from mercury poisoning.
The report “Assessment of the risk of exposure to metallic mercury in riparian populations” showed that 92% of women in the Yekuana ethnic group suffered from high levels of mercury, even when people live as far as 200 kilometers from contaminated mining spaces.
In both countries, the responsibility lies with the illegal prospectors and governments in the absence of more effective measures.
The Survival International organization have undertaken various actions to denounce this critical situation.
In a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Health, Survival International stressed the failure of governments in South America in combating this type of pollution.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival International said: “These governments are sitting on a time bomb”.
Every week that passes without acting, more and more indigenous peoples suffer damage. When mercury poisoning is identified, the source must be contained immediately and those affected should be treated.
“The consequences will be catastrophic if the lands of indigenous peoples are not protected,” he added